I was rather struck by something in a comment by Jax, written in response to something I’d written:
I’ve never really understood why first David Cameron and then Theresa May have continued to support a smoking ban that most Conservative MPs voted against.
And she replied:
I think they recognise that smoking is one of those “hot potato” political issues which invoke very strong feelings from both sides and so they are doing what politicians always do – taking the easy option – and simply ignoring it.
Is smoking a ‘hot potato’ political issue? Oddly enough, I’d just been thinking the exact opposite. I’d been thinking about how there was no mention of smokers or smoking bans in the mainstream media. It’s not a subject of discussion. I get the impression that for most non-smokers – and in fact a great many smokers – the UK smoking ban is pretty much past history, a bit like The Battle of Britain or the Norman Conquest. Many of them probably don’t even remember in what year it was enacted. In short, it was a very cold potato.
Of course, for me (and for many of my readers) it remains a very, very hot potato indeed. In my case, it marked my complete and comprehensive expulsion from society. I’m never going to forget it. And I imagine that many of my readers won’t ever forget it either. But just because it’s a hot potato for us doesn’t mean that it’s a hot potato for anyone else. Why should it be a hot potato for non-smokers who were almost completely unaffected by it? All they ever noticed (if they noticed it at all) was that the pubs and cafes and restaurants became a lot less smoky one day. And also a lot less full. They might have approved of both developments – although in my experience most non-smokers never gave a damn about smoking: antismokers have always been a small minority.
But if the antismokers have always been a small minority, they have been a highly vocal and highly active minority. And once they’d kicked all the smokers out of pubs and restaurants, they set out to kick them out of everywhere else as well. Their very latest attempt has been to get smoking banned in prisons (exempted in the 2006 Health Act). The antismokers have continued to completely dominate the debate about smoking and tobacco, 10 years after they got a comprehensive smoking ban enacted. There’s always somewhere where smoking is still allowed – prisons, parks, beaches, cars -, and these places provide them with targets against which they can campaign.
Pretty much all the “strong feelings” are on the side of the antismokers. They never stop. And they will never stop until the last smoker, and the last tobacco plant, have been driven from the face of the Earth. The smokers are always in retreat. First from the buses and trains, then from the cinemas and theatres, then from the pubs and restaurants and cafes, now from the prisons and parks and hospitals. Nobody speaks for them. Nobody at all.
When was the last time any politician ever said anything about smoking? When was the last time that David Cameron or Theresa May or any of the rest of them made any remark, for or against?
Nigel Farage, bless him, did speak up. But the EU, not smoking, was his principal concern. And he didn’t mention it very often.
I spend quite a lot of time listening to US right wing talk radio these days. But they never mention smoking either. I have never heard smoking get mentioned a single time on Alex Jones’ Infowars. I only ever heard it mentioned once by Michael Savage (someone regarded as so horribly subversive that he’s not allowed to enter Britain). They’ll talk about the Clintons and the Bushes and the Pelosis and the Schumers. They’ll talk about the latest sexual harassment scandals. They’ll talk about immigration. They’ll talk about ISIS and Al Qaeda. They’ll even talk about the EU from time to time. But smoking? Never.
Of course I mention it. I mention it almost every day. But I’m nobody. I only get heard by my few very dear readers. I don’t get heard anywhere else. So I don’t count.
Even when I occasionally mention the smoking ban to other smokers that I encounter by chance, usually in pub gardens in summer, I’m usually met with dead silence. Because it’s something they never talk about either. It’s a forbidden topic. For they like to maintain the pretence that nothing really changed with the smoking ban, and that life carried on as normal. You’d think that they were only sitting outside in the English summer rain because that’s what they liked doing, and it was their own free choice.
The simple truth of the matter is that the antismokers in Tobacco Control have managed to stampede more or less everyone across the entire world into antismoking conformity. Nobody is allowed to ever dare say that they like smoking, or put in a good word for smokers, without shrieks and howls of outrage. It’s Politically Incorrect to be pro-smoking. It’s Politically Incorrect to be anything other than virulently antismoking. It is, to use one of their favourite terms, “unacceptable” to have anything other than one single approved opinion about not only smoking, but an ever-increasing range of other topics as well.
And the politicians and the mainstream media have been stampeded along with everyone else. And the antismokers are always trying to keep the stampede going, by continually ramping up fear of tobacco (and now of course vaping) to ever higher levels, and continually pushing hard for new antismoking measures. And now they’re gradually extending their interests beyond smoking, to alcohol, sugar, fast foods, and so on.
I think that in due course it will change. I think that the rise of the political right in the USA and Britain and Europe is part of a growing revolt against the nannying – no, bullying – climate of the times. I think that people are gradually digging in their heels in all sorts of small ways, many of them entirely unrelated to smoking. I think people are gradually getting sick of being told how to live their lives, and what they can and can’t say, what they should and shouldn’t think. Because if they don’t, they’ll only be bullied and blackmailed and stampeded even more. If they don’t push back, it’ll only get worse. They may not want to push back, but in the end they’re going to have to.